Immigration can be about creating jobs, not stealing jobs

With the Coalition government pledging to address the current working-visa structure it might be time to reconsider our thinking around the economic value of immigration.

The Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda has pledged to address the current working-visa structure, so is it time for Australia to change its thinking around the economic value of immigration?

Australia is a nation of immigrants, and as research shows, increasingly a nation of entrepreneurs with new business activity contributing to Australia’s economic growth and regional development while creating wealth and employment opportunities.

What’s interesting to note is the increasing global recognition of how immigrant entrepreneurs are contributing, with non-native start-ups now recognised as a significant contribution to the economy of Western nations as a whole.

In London, for instance, immigrant entrepreneurs are estimated to own over 50 per cent of new business start-ups and seven per cent of all small businesses. Additionally, migrant enterprises now account for over 40 per cent of all businesses in Vienna, Strasbourg and Amsterdam.

This growth is further documented in Spain, Italy and France, with reports estimating the annual number of new migrant entrepreneurs establishing their businesses to be 75,000, 46,000 and 35,000, respectively.

As Australia undergoes economic and social change, the question that needs to be asked is whether the Australian government should be addressing the needs of these individuals, and what changes these individuals can make to the nation’s landscape?

Reduce unemployment

With the recent spike in unemployment a cause for concern, fostering immigrant entrepreneurship has immense potential to create value-added employment across all sectors, without impacting on the indigenous workforce.

This isn’t just exclusive to their own immigrant community, but extends to other ethnic groups, along with nationals, therefore increasing the benefit that these ventures have on the nation’s overall employment market.

Small business revival

Immigrant entrepreneurs are heavily influential in the revival of the small business populace, with their enterprises exhibiting extraordinary growth throughout the last two decades. 

Australia needs to recognise the factors that encourage this new business creation, and understand the role that every entrepreneurial individual plays. Australia’s immigrants represent a significant source of human capital, which is fundamental in the development of every country’s entrepreneurial base.

Revitalising regions

Immigrant entrepreneurship can often revitalise declining regions, contributing to the nation’s economic and social welfare. By working longer hours and utilising ethnic resources and networks, immigrants may ease production and transaction costs to help previously unprofitable industries become attractive.

In small and medium-sized cities, immigrants fill professions that would not exist in their absence, with skilled immigrants able to engage in corporate entrepreneurship. For instance, in 1998, approximately 25 per cent of the senior engineering executives in Silicon Valley were Asian migrants of Chinese and Indian origin.

Risk takers

Experts argue that immigrants are much more likely to engage in entrepreneurial activities than a host country’s own nationals.These individuals have already demonstrated their ability to take considerable risks by choosing to leave their native land in search of a more prosperous life, making them a more dynamic and motivated group.

Ultimately, immigrant entrepreneurship represents unprecedented opportunity for Australia’s future economic development, so it is imperative that these innovators be given equal academic and socio-political consideration, as well as governmental support, to fulfil their potential as a key contributor.

The evolution of Australia’s demographic profile is opening up the entrepreneurial space to foreign nationals, with a vision of “Australia becoming a world class environment in which to grow and start a business”.

Dr Jane Hession is Head of the Business Faculty at leading independent education provider Macleay College and the author of Women in the Modern Workplace: Gender Barriers to Business Start-Ups.

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